January 18, 2017 – Three students from the Convent of the Sacred Heart school shared their personal stories of community service with our Parents Committee, illustrating how a strong collaboration with a school can lead to robust student-led service opportunities that benefit the student volunteers as much as they do LSA children and families. The students – all seniors – have been involved for several years in CASA (an after-school art program at LSA), H.E.A.R.T. Swim Program, and H.E.A.R.T. Summer Program.
Our Parents Committee, which has been exploring ways high school students can be involved with community service at LSA, was thoroughly impressed and inspired by these community service stars!
Below are their stories in their own words.
Alessandra: H.E.A.R.T. [Health, Education, and Responsible Tools] Swim Program
After 406, the athletic facility, was completed at the beginning of my sophomore year, the H.E.A.R.T Swim Program was developed to teach underprivileged kids to learn how to swim. There were originally about 10 boys and girls from ages 4 to 12 attending these swim lessons every Saturday from 12 to 1 pm, and they were coached by a few members of our Varsity Swim Team. When I first met these children, I understood even better how lucky and blessed I have been throughout my life, and it gave me a reality check. The beauty of this swim program is that while we are constantly looking for new students to join, the same group of children has been participating since the beginning, and I’ve been able to develop close relationships with many of them. I look forward to seeing their bright smiles and cheery dispositions on the pool deck as I watch each of them fall in love with the sport that has been such a transformative part of my life.
I’ve witnessed this drastic change in all my swimmers after three years, but especially in Evelyn. At first, this swimmer struggled with developing the proper stroke techniques. I would notice that she’d feel overwhelmed by the other girls who had already mastered the basics. Now, three years later, Evelyn is effortlessly swimming laps in all four strokes. I can see her bright smile from across the pool deck every time she finishes another set. Her positivity keeps the rest of my group motivated, and her progression from a timid swimmer to a determined young girl is truly admirable.
The children that were too scared to dip their head under the water are now diving off the blocks and obsessed with swimming every stroke, especially butterfly. They learn from each other and are developing valuable skills at a young age that they wouldn’t have otherwise. I am still a volunteer for the H.E.A.R.T program, and I have watched it flourish. Just a few weeks ago, we started a second program on Saturdays because of the success that emerged from the first one. The number of participants continues to grow as more children are having the chance to utilize the Sacred Heart pool.
This has been a rewarding experience for me as an instructor because I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the sport I’ve pursued wholeheartedly throughout high school. Now, as captain of the Varsity Swimming Team, whenever I hear a teammate groan about plunging into the pool at the crack of dawn, I remind them how much we love this sport and how fortunate we are to be able to push our physical and mental limits in a safe environment. Teaching swimming has taught me that the best way to give back to my community is to share the things I love most.
Emily: CASA (Children’s After School Studio Arts)
I began CASA when I was in eighth grade here at Sacred Heart and used it as a means to both help me transition to my new school, since I arrived in seventh grade, but also to give back to my cultural community. We used to hold CASA classes here at Sacred Heart and focused mainly on ceramics and clay. Now, every Tuesday, 3-4 student teachers go up to Little Sisters of the Assumption in Harlem and teach elementary school students, ages 6-8, different art techniques and projects.
Although LSA recently lost some funding for the arts, they received a grant that allowed us to expand the program from what was originally only 6 kids to about 12-16 students. It allowed us to have a bigger space and have more room for the activities. We leave at 3:30 and return by 5:30 the latest. We create the curriculum and really get a chance to become leaders in our community.
I love CASA because I am able give back to students who are in the same position I was a few years ago. I used to go to public school and wasn’t exposed to the different materials and art supplies we have here. I am able to share resources that we take for granted. Every time we begin the semester with watercolors, I am surrounded by confused faces because many of the children have never even seen watercolors before.
I specifically remember one little boy named Ian. He was very shy at first and struggled with understanding some of my instructions because his first language was Spanish. I was able to remove the language barrier and make him comfortable by speaking to him in Spanish and asking if he needed any help. Ian wasn’t familiar with watercolors and I remember telling him not to soak the paintbrush too much in water and to collect more paint on the brush for more pigment. He became one of my strongest students. It reminded me that many times underprivileged students in the public school system don’t have the tools and resources to discover their talents and reach their fullest potential. I enjoy giving these students a place to be creative and express themselves. These little things have made me stay and lead CASA for so long.
Agnes: H.E.A.R.T. Summer Program
For the past two summers I have participated in the H.E.A.R.T summer program, a program for kids mostly from East Harlem to help them learn about new academic—yet fun—things, and about how to eat a healthy diet, started by our very own Mr. Chung. Our job is to provide them with the tools to explore and discover new experiences, giving them the opportunity to learn not only new things, generally, but new things about themselves.
This past summer was our sixth year, and I was fortunate to be able to teach a music class as well as being one of the lead swim instructors. It was important for me to make sure that they were enjoying swim class not only for fun but also for the betterment of their health. We learned different strokes, had races, and there were even a few kids who were learning how to swim for the very first time. One boy, Irving was afraid to actually even touch the pool water the first day. Within a little under a month, he was swimming up and down the pool.
In my music class, I was able to teach the kids about basic music theory, including different types of notes, rhythm, etc. We even wrote our own melodies! We also learned about different genres and composers, and prepared six or seven songs, that were ready to perform for our last celebration.
My favorite part of the H.E.A.R.T program was our end of the year celebration. I saw how happy the children were to be showing the work they had done for their families. HEART is not just about education or community, it’s about spreading love. I’m so excited to see where it will go.